UFC Weight Classes and Divisions (Complete Guide)

ufc weight classes (divisions)

Weight classes are an important part of combat sports. They ensure a fair contest and allow for smaller competitors to compete for world titles. But how many weight classes are there in the UFC and why are they so vital to the sport?

Here we’re going to answer all your questions. By the end, you’ll not only know what all the weight classes are but also who is the best fighter in each division. We’ll also answer some FAQs to give you all the info you need. Let’s get started!

How Many UFC Weight Classes Are There?

There are a few ways to answer this question as there are both men’s and women’s weight classes. Men have eight different weight classes ranging from flyweight all the way up to heavyweight.

Women have four UFC weight divisions, which range from strawweight to featherweight. So one answer that you can give is that the UFC has 12 divisions in total, when you add up both the men’s and women’s.

However, the two genders share three divisions, which are flyweight, bantamweight, and featherweight. These three divisions share exactly the same weight requirements, regardless of gender.

Therefore, you could say that the UFC has nine separate divisions as, for example, ‘bantamweight’ means the same thing whether you’re male or female. The only division that men don’t fight in is strawweight. Women don’t fight in any division from lightweight up to heavyweight.

UFC Men’s Weight Classes (Divisions)

The men have eight different UFC weight divisions. If you didn’t know, the weight figure shown here is the maximum they can weigh before a weigh-in. Here are the UFC weight classes in order.

UFC Weight Classes Chart

DivisionUFC Weight Classes lbsUFC Weight Classes kg
Light Heavyweight20593.0
UFC Men’s Weight Classes (Divisions)

UFC Women’s Weight Classes (Divisions)

UFC Weight Classes Chart

Women in the UFC only have four divisions to compete in. This is naturally due to women having a smaller range of heights when compared to men, and naturally weighing less.

The UFC could have chosen to do something a little different with women’s weight divisions in terms of altering their names, or the weight limit, but they decided to keep it exactly the same.

DivisionUFC Weight Classes lbsUFC Weight Classes kg
UFC Women’s Weight Classes (Divisions)

Why Do UFC Weight Classes Exist?

It may seem obvious why we have weight classes, but the UFC didn’t officially have them for a long time. We’ll discuss more on that later but let’s first take a look at why weight classes are so important.

Fairness – It’s a very obvious point but the size of your body has a huge correlation to how you can perform in a fight. The weight class will provide a level playing field and ensure that an athlete is able to compete against someone their own size.

For example, Demetrious Johnson is widely known as the best flyweight of all time but if you put him in the octagon against an average heavyweight, then he’s going to lose. There would be a huge power and strength differential.

Weight classes allow for a balanced fight and ensure the bout is more focused on a fighter’s skill and technique, rather than them having a physical advantage.

Open Competition – Imagine a UFC where there was only one division. We may never have heard of the likes of Demetrious Johnson, Conor McGregor, Jose Aldo, and Khabib Nurmagomedov. These men would have simply been too small to compete in the sport.

Having weight classes allows anyone to fulfill a dream of fighting in the UFC. Without weight classes, essentially only those over 6 feet tall could ever have a chance of becoming a champion. That wouldn’t be half as fun to watch.

Safety – MMA is a dangerous sport as it is. If you threw smaller competitors in there with bigger fighters, it would be a disaster. A heavyweight striking against a flyweight could cause some serious damage, very quickly.

As much as UFC fans are in awe of the violence, it soon stops being fun when it isn’t a fair fight. The whole sport of MMA is known for actually being quite safe for brain injuries, especially compared to boxing, but that may change if there weren’t weight classes.

Performance – Having a weight class means that a fighter needs to be at their peak level of fitness to be able to compete. It allows for a better sport overall as they can compete at a weight that is perfect for their body size and overall composition.

Without a weight class, a fighter may be tempted to put on too much muscle or have excess body fat. Some of the early UFC fights seem ridiculous when looking back now. Weight has a much more significant impact on performance than height, even though the two are linked.

Records – Picture a UFC when there is only one champion. It would be pretty boring as we wouldn’t have multiple divisions to watch, and we wouldn’t be able to have conversations about who is the pound-for-pound greatest.

Having records and statistics allows us to compare performances, look back on history, and create a better legacy for the sport. That would be much harder to do if there weren’t weight classes.

Popularity – Taking everything that we have said so far, you can see how poorer MMA and the UFC would be if they didn’t have weight classes. The sport would be much more enjoyable to watch and wouldn’t have the same level of income.

Fans are the lifeblood of any sport and weight classes not only make competition fair, but also easier to follow. They help to provide a clear structure to the sport which fans can follow to support their favorite fighters.

Which Division is Most Popular in UFC?

This is a hard question to answer as there isn’t always a standout division in the sport. Many people love having their favorite fighters to follow, which may mean the best division for one person may be different from someone else.

For example, boxing is different. In boxing, heavyweight has long been known as the glamor division and gets much more attention than other divisions. Top-level heavyweights are generally more popular than the top-level boxers from other divisions, with some exceptions.

There are a few reasons for this. One of them is that people love to watch knockouts, which are much more common in heavyweight boxing than in other divisions. Secondly, there is something awe-inspiring about watching two heavyweights go toe-to-toe.

The UFC is different for a few reasons. Due to the smaller gloves used in MMA, knockouts are still fairly common in the lower divisions. There is also the grappling aspect. Smaller fighters are often more technical, and submissions are great to watch too.

This grappling element is something that boxing obviously doesn’t have. When you combine these aspects together, the heavyweight division doesn’t stand out as much in MMA.

So which division is the most popular in UFC? The answer is that it changes on a regular basis. The most popular division is usually the one that has the best collection of world-class fighters competing against each other.

Many would say it’s the lightweight division right now. It got a huge surge in popularity with the likes of Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor, but it still has many of the best pound-for-pound fighters, such as Islam Makhachev, Charles Oliveira, and Dustin Poirier.

Others may enjoy other divisions, depending on who their favorite fighters are. The beauty of the UFC is that all the weight divisions are highly competitive and immensely entertaining. The best thing you can do is just enjoy them all!

History of UFC Weight Classes

When it started, the UFC didn’t have a set of clear rules and it didn’t have any weight classes. It’s a much different story from the slick organization that we see today. As we looked at above, not having weight classes doesn’t make much sense.

The UFC needed to add legitimacy to the sport and a big man fighting a little man wasn’t a good look, even if the little man won! The company was founded in 1993 but it wasn’t until 1997 that divisions were created. At that time, the sport was still focused on tournaments, and therefore belts weren’t a thing.

The heavyweight division was established and so was a ‘lightweight’ title. That lightweight weight limit would soon be changed to middleweight. At that stage, anyone 200lbs or above was a heavyweight, and anyone 199lbs or below was a lightweight.

They gradually added more divisions and slightly altered their weight limits. Much changed in 2010 when the WEC merged with the UFC and with it came an introduction of the smaller weight classes of featherweight and bantamweight.

The men’s weight classes were finalized to what we know today in 2012, when the flyweight title was added. It wasn’t long after this that we started to get women’s divisions, but it only started with one, which was bantamweight.

Soon strawweight was added, which is the first and still only division that the men don’t compete in. After that, the flyweight division was introduced before we finally got a featherweight women’s division too. The women’s featherweight, bantamweight, and flyweight divisions all have identical weight limit requirements to the men’s.

Will this change in the future? Well, there are no plans to do so. There have been calls to introduce a 165lbs division in between Lightweight and Welterweight but UFC President Dana White has been vocal against the idea, arguing that it would weaken the two divisions.

At the moment, the divisions seem very stable which allows for immense fan engagement and history to be made.

Greatest UFC Fighters in Each Men Division

Hopefully, now you know all about the divisions in UFC but who are the best fighters ever in each division? Well, that’s what we wanted to find out. Join us as we take a look at some of the best to ever do it.

Flyweight – Demetrious Johnson

The flyweight division was the last men’s weight class to be added to the UFC but thankfully it was. Without it, we wouldn’t have been witness to the long and memorable reign of Demetrious Johnson. With a record of 31-4-1, he dominated the sport.

He almost single-handedly put the division on the map but other fighters deserve respect too, such as Henry Cejudo. Johnson showcased the exceptional technical ability that smaller fighters possess. He fell out with UFC in 2019, but he’ll be forever remembered as one of the greatest ever.

Bantamweight – Dominick Cruz

In terms of having elite fighters, the bantamweight division hasn’t been blessed in the same way as others. For example, there hasn’t been a fighter as dominant as Demetrious Johnson, but Dominick Cruz has come the closest.

Cruz still had a record of 22-1 at one point in time as many couldn’t deal with his electric movement. He was also a very clever fighter that was very tricky to face. The closest fighter to his level in this division is probably Petr Yan.

Featherweight – Jose Aldo

The featherweight division has perhaps been the most interesting in recent years. The likes of Conor McGregor and Max Holloway have had many great fights and currently Alexander Volkanovski is putting his mark on the division.

However, for longevity and legacy, the best-ever featherweight has to be Jose Aldo. At one point he stretched his record out to 25-1 and looked untouchable. He was a brilliant striker with a wide range of attack moves to dominate his opponents.

Lightweight – Khabib Nurmagomedov

Being undefeated is a huge thing in boxing, but not in MMA. The best fight the best all the time and a loss isn’t seen as a huge deal. It’s that fact that makes Khabib’s 29-0 record even more impressive. He was a monster in the octagon and was renowned for his elite grappling skills.

At one point, he held the lightweight title for 1077 days and walked away from the sport at the peak of his powers. Other great lightweights in UFC history are the likes of BJ Penn and Frankie Edgar, while Islam Makhachev has taken over Khabib’s mantle as the best fighter currently in the division.

Welterweight – Georges St. Pierre

Trying to pick the best welterweight ever was quite difficult. Matt Hughes had a huge early impact on the sport, and Tyron Woodley deserves huge credit too. In recent times, Kamaru Usman has been dominant but now seems to have passed that baton to Leon Edwards.

But you can’t look beyond GSP. Many see him as the greatest of all time and he’s another with a phenomenal record at 26-2. And he went on to get revenge in those two fights that he lost, with one of them being to Matt Hughes.

His dominance in the octagon was legendary and he had the complete all-around game. While a welterweight champion, he also managed to add the middleweight championship too.

Middleweight – Anderson Silva

Not only is Anderson Silva the best middleweight in the history of the UFC, but many regard him as the best fighter ever full stop. He had a memorable reign as the champion when he went 2,457 days without losing a fight.

He has a record of 34-11 which may not seem that great, but it’s heavily skewed by a bad end to his career. At one point, he had a record of 33-4. His striking ability was fantastic, but he was an all-around difficult opponent to face.

Credit also has to go to the likes of Chris Weidman and Michael Bisping for establishing the division, and Israel Adesanya is a current champion helping to take the sport to the next level.

Light Heavyweight – Daniel Cormier

When picking the greatest in each division, this was probably the most difficult. Both Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones have been elite fighters who have twice battled together. Cormier lost both fights but the second was later changed to a no contest.

The reason is why we’ve not listed Jon Jones as the greatest light heavyweight, as it’s due to performance-enhancing drugs. It puts enough of a black cloud over his career to taint his legacy. Other great light heavyweights include Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell.

Heavyweight – Stipe Miocic

There have been many important heavyweights in the history of the UFC but none of them have been better than Stipe Miocic. With his dominant striking skills, he’s stood out as a huge force in the division and helped to raise it to the next level.

Other potential greatest heavyweights include two fighters we’ve already mentioned, Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. Both of them have won the heavyweight championship but as they spent most of their careers in the light heavyweight division, we felt Miocic deserved the honor.

We can’t mention the heavyweight division without talking about Randy Couture. He, along with other fighters like Junior dos Santos, helped to build the UFC up into the force it is today.

Great UFC Fighters in Each Women Division

Strawweight – Joanna Jędrzejczyk

The strawweight division is the only one not competed by men and there have been plenty of brilliant women fighters that have stated their claim as the best ever. Rose Namajunas and Zhang Weili are two brilliant competitors who deserve plenty of respect.

However, the legacy of Joanna Jędrzejczyk is unmatched. She won the championship and managed to defend the belt five times. Her work rate and violent striking set her apart from the competition and at one time boasted a record of 14-0.

Flyweight – Valentina Shevchenko

Not many have dominated a division quite like Valentina Shevchenko. She won the flyweight championship and managed to defend it an impressive seven times. This gave her the honor of having the most title defenses by any woman.

An interesting fact about Shevchenko is that she also has titles in Muay Thai, Taekwondo, Boxing, Judo, and Kickboxing, making her a true queen of professional fighting. Her crown in the UFC has recently been stolen by Alexa Grasso but Shevchenko’s legacy in the UFC has long been secured.

Bantamweight – Ronda Rousey

The title of the best bantamweight of all time would probably be between Amanda Nunes and Rhonda Rousey, but to stop us from repeating ourselves, we’ll give it to Ronda. She was a pioneer of the sport and hugely influential in the history of the UFC.

As the title was put on the line first before any other weight division, Ronda Rousey was the first ever woman to win a UFC belt. With her marketable mix of good looks, incredible skill, and engaging personality, she was a huge hit.

Sadly she left the UFC behind to pursue a career in another form of entertainment as she became a WWE star.

Featherweight – Amanda Nunes

We mentioned how we didn’t want to repeat ourselves, as Amanda Nunes could easily be regarded as the best featherweight and bantamweight fighter ever. In the last few years she has effortlessly switched between both divisions and is one of the greatest UFC champions ever.

Her only loss since 2014 was against Julianna Pena, a loss that she has already avenged. She’s beat everyone there is to beat, and done it with style. While Nunes is the clear winner, an honorable mention has to go to Chris Cyborg. She has also been a pioneer for the sport and an elite level fighter.

UFC Weight Classes – FAQs

How does making weight work?

Fighters are required to weigh in on the day before the fight, and these weigh-ins are usually held in the morning. At this point, the fighter will need to be at or below the weight limit for the fight to go ahead as scheduled.

Before the weigh-in, a fighter will dehydrate themselves to lose as much water weight as possible. After they weigh in, they will then take in as much fluid as they can. This means by fight night, fighters will weigh significantly more than they did at the weigh-in.

What happens when a fighter misses weight?

It depends on what’s at stake, but the fights usually go ahead. If the fighter only slightly misses weight, then they are often given an hour or two to lose what’s required. If they can’t then the UFC will usually amend it to a catchweight fight, on approval of the fighter who successfully made weight.

As punishment, a fighter will usually lose around 20-30% of their purse for missing weight. Also if it was a title fight, then that status would be stripped and the fighter would no longer be the new champion should they win.

What is a catchweight?

A catchweight is when the fighters agree to a weight limit that is not officially recognized as a weight division. There are two reasons for catchweight fights, with the first being for the reason we stated above when a fighter doesn’t make weight.

Another reason is when a bigger fighter wants to fight a smaller fighter. They will agree on a catchweight as a compromise. These are usually ‘superfights’ but rarely happen in the world of the UFC.

Will there be more UFC weight classes?

Not in the near future. There have been calls to add a weight class in men’s fighting in between lightweight and welterweight, and also to include an atomweight for women but neither of these seems to be popular with UFC President Dana White.

Are the UFC weight classes the same as boxing?

No, not at all. Generally, the weight classes in boxing have much lower weights than the weight class of the same name in the UFC. For example, in boxing a welterweight can weigh up to 147 lbs. In the UFC, that is all the way up to 170.

Part of the reason for that is boxing has more divisions, with the best example probably being the cruiserweight division which covers a weight range of 175lbs to 200lbs.

It can change depending on the organization but boxing has 17 recognized weight divisions, this contrasts with the nine you have in the UFC.

Can fighters move between divisions?

Not only can they move between divisions, but they can hold multiple belts at the same time. While Conor McGregor was the first to do this, the best example is probably Amanda Nunes.

In the last few years, she has repeatedly switched from the featherweight division to the bantamweight division to defend her titles. It’s incredibly impressive and some fighters are comfortable at different weights.

Final Thoughts

The history of UFC weight classes is fascinating. From a disorganized and slightly chaotic organization in the beginning, it has developed into a well-respected and legitimate sport where fighters desperately want to fight to become the champion of their division.

At the moment, these divisions seem set in stone, but who knows what will happen in the future. We hope you’ve enjoyed the journey of UFC weight classes and looking back at some of the best fighters in UFC history.

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Kenny Jarvis
Kenny Jarvis
I have been practicing and studying boxing since I was a teenager. I am passionate about the sport, along with many other martial arts. While my fighting days may be over, I love channeling my passion into my writing to provide insightful blogs.